How Did the Times Square Suspect Become a US Citizen?


Right after the news about the Times Square bomber broke, some Republicans were outraged that the suspect–a naturalized US citizen—had been read his Miranda rights after his arrest. The next installment in the debate is sure to be exactly how Pakistan-born Faisal Shahzad gained his citzenship–and whether it should have been granted in the first place.

Shahzad became a naturalized US citizen just a year ago, after marrying an American citizen in October 2008, according to one Bloomberg report. After being approved for US student visas in 1998 and 2002, Shahzad had passed all the necessary national security background checks and was naturalized in April 2009. The suspect also “apparently went back and forth to Pakistan often, making his last trip in February,” reports the New York Times, adding that he had traveled with three passports—two from Pakistan and one from the US.

There’s no way of knowing at this point whether Shahzad’s citizenship had facilitated any aspect of the attempted bombing or its genesis. Nor is it known whether Shahzad had designs to carry out the plot while he was seeking American citizenship. But federal officials are already looking to see if Shahzad had lied on any part of his citizenship application. And the questions surrounding his path in the US are likely to prompt renewed calls from conservatives for tightened immigration controls as a national security measure—particularly as the immigration debate heats up.

Though the debate has focused predominantly on Latino immigrants so far, it wasn’t long ago that concerns about terrorism were a big driver of both the national politics and policy of immigration. In 2007, in the midst of the last Congressional immigration debate, then-Colorado Rep. and GOP presidential hopeful Tom Tancredo released a TV ad claiming that “jihadists frothing with hate” would use the southern border to cross into the U.S. And it seems like such concerns could end up entering the political bloodstream once again. Already, security hawk Joe Lieberman (I-CT) has floated one especially draconian proposal: revoke the citizenship of Americans with ties to known terrorist networks, so they will be denied Miranda rights and can be tried in military tribunals instead of civilian courts. Now that’s a handy work-around: afford Americans the protections of citizenship only when it’s convenient.

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  • Suzy Khimm was a reporter in the Washington bureau of Mother Jones from March 2010 until June 2011. For more of her stories, click here. Follow her on Twitter here.